Founded by a mobster and noted more for the parties they held off the ice than any winning they did on it, the Brooklyn Americans are an interesting albeit largely forgotten chapter in the National Hockey League’s early years.
Bath’s Dale Morrisey, with his company Wandering Journalist Productions, has delved deep into their storied history, producing a documentary titled Only The Dead Know The Brooklyn Americans, which launches on DVD mid-December.
“They were sort of the seventh team of the original six,” explains Morrisey of the Americans, who were founded in 1925, rebranding themselves as the Brooklyn Americans for the 1941-42 season before disbanding due to the World War Two and financial difficulties. “At the largest point there’s 10 teams in the NHL and then the league keeps retracting and retracting down to seven teams including the Brooklyn Americans. The Americans actually pre-date the Rangers by a season. Everyone thinks of the Rangers as the team in New York but there was a time when the Americans were the toast of the town.”
Known colloquially as the ‘Amerks’, they were soon cast as afterthoughts when their landlords at Madison Square Garden decided to ice a team of their own — the Rangers. Though the Amerks never hoisted a Stanley Cup, there was more than enough of a story for Morrisey to work with when producing the documentary.
“(The Amerks) were the loveable losers of the NHL,” said Morrisey. “Their battle cry was ‘join the Americans and laugh yourself to death.’ Big Bill Dwyer (the team’s owner) was a fascinating guy all on his own and I think he deserves his own documentary film. Big Bill Dwyer is the Al Capone of the east and in some ways he’s even bigger than Al Capone. Anything illegal coming to New York City, he owns it. He considers himself untouchable. He has all this money and he doesn’t know what to do with it. Like a lot of guys in that era who are mobsters, he wants to at least have the appearance of being a legitimate business man so he’s looking for ways to, diversify his portfolio let’s say. So he gets talked into buying a hockey team.”
One of the central characters profiled in the documentary is George Patterson, who was the subject of Morrisey’s 2014 film, The Father Of Hockey. The Kingston native is credited with scoring the first goal in franchise history for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would later go on to play for the Amerks, where he was the league’s leading scorer in what was shaping up to be a promising season for the usually tough-luck club. As the season was winding down, they were neck and neck with the Montreal Maroons, their rivals.
“Big Bill gets a little ahead of himself and decides he’s going to send the boys out for a big celebration,” said Morrisey. “He orders some limousines and fills the last one with cases of the good stuff and sends them out to one of his ranches because one of Big Bill’s other passions was horse racing. You have to think that booze and hockey players, not a great mix. Horses and hockey players, definitely not a great mix. Booze, horses and hockey players, recipe for disastser.”
Sure enough the players soon begin challenging each other to horseback races. And sure enough, it’s the star player who gets hurt.
“The horse goes left, George goes right, falls off and breaks his collarbone and that’s the end of George for the season and that’s the end of the Americans’ season,” said Morrisey. “They won maybe one or two games the rest of the way and end up finishing in last place.”
It was that reputation for partying that dogged the team throughout its existence, finishing with an all-time record of 255-402-127, without even so much as a Stanley Cup final appearance.
“We know how it’s going to end before we even start,” said Morrisey. “Your heart kind of sinks a bit. You end up rooting for them. It’s hard not to put that in the writing of it. You’re rooting for these characters that you’re researching and you’re wanting a better ending for them because it’s kind of a melancholy end for them. Even Big Bill Dwyer, who is a gangster, I wanted things to turn out better for Bill than they did, and I knew they weren’t going to.”
As if the story wasn’t enough of a draw, Morrisey’s team was able to secure Larry King, former host of CNN’s “Larry King Live,” to narrate the film.
“The executive producers of the film get full credit for this,” said Morrisey. “Steven Cohen and Lisa Melmed, a husband and wife team and Brooklynites. Steven is a diehard Brooklyn Americans historian. They opened a lot of doors.”
Cohen is also a family friend of King, which made it easy to recruit the legendary broadcaster to read the script.
“He gives it that authentic sound because he’s got that Brooklyn voice,” said Morrisey.
The film is now available on digital platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Super Channel and will be available in hard copy format at Sam The Record Man in Belleville and Now And Then in the Kingston Cataraqui Centre by mid-December.